10 Signs You May Have An Autoimmune Disease

Functional Medicine Doctor By Amy Myers, M.D.
Functional Medicine Doctor
Amy Myers, M.D. is a renowned leader in functional medicine living in Austin, Texas. She is a New York Times best-selling author of both The Autoimmune Solution and The Thyroid Connection, and received her doctorate in medicine from the LSU Health Sciences Center.

Autoimmune conditions affect over 50 million Americans, a large percentage of whom are women. In fact, I myself had an autoimmune disease called Graves. Autoimmune diseases are considered a top 10 leading cause of death in women under the age of 65. They come in many varieties, and can cause different types of symptoms all over the body that range from mild to severe in nature. But what are they, what causes them, and how can they be treated?

What are autoimmune diseases?

Although there are many different types of autoimmune diseases and they can affect many different organs, at their core they are all similar in that they are an immune response caused by systemic inflammation that leads your body to attack itself. Your immune system has a very sophisticated system for keeping you safe that leads it to identify all of the foreign substances that enter your body or that you come into contact with. If your immune system deems anything dangerous, it will produce antibodies to ward off the harmful intruders.

Autoimmune diseases are born when your body is working hard to defend itself against something potentially dangerous, such as an allergen, an infection, or even a food, and it fails to differentiate between the intruder and parts of your own body. Mistaking certain types of tissues for harmful substances, your body turns these antibodies against itself, wreaking havoc on your organs.


Types of autoimmune diseases

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that there are over 80 known types of autoimmune diseases, including:

  • type 1 diabetes
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • systemic lupus erythematosus
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • Grave's disease
  • celiac disease
  • multiple sclerosis

Symptoms of autoimmune diseases

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, especially a combination of several of them, you may have an autoimmune disease:

  1. Joint pain, muscle pain or weakness or a tremor
  2. Weight loss, insomnia, heat intolerance or rapid heartbeat
  3. Recurrent rashes or hives, sun-sensitivity, a butterfly-shaped rash across your nose and cheeks.
  4. Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  5. Feeling tired or fatigued, weight gain or cold intolerance
  6. Hair loss or white patches on your skin or inside your mouth
  7. Abdominal pain, blood or mucus in your stool, diarrhea or mouth ulcers
  8. Dry eyes, mouth or skin
  9. Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  10. Multiple miscarriages or blood clots

What causes autoimmune diseases?

While experts still aren't certain about what causes autoimmune diseases, there are a number of factors that may play a role. For example, there seems to be a clear genetic link with many autoimmune diseases. However, whether these genes get expressed or turned on may be caused by a host of environmental factors, such as diet, particularly foods that cause inflammation. Although more research is needed to confirm this connection.

What should you do if you suspect you have an autoimmune disease?

If you suspect that you have an autoimmune disease, the most important steps to managing your disease and symptoms is to identify it and then to treat the underlying cause.

Identifying which autoimmune disease is affecting you can be a difficult process. Symptoms may be vague, and autoimmune diseases can present themselves in so many different ways, affecting the thyroid, the brain, the skin, or other organs. Working closely with a medical professional who will review your family medical history, understand your risk factors for infections, food sensitivities, as well as listen to you closely to discover how all of your symptoms are related is an essential part of getting well. A functional medicine physician or holistically-minded doctor will help to narrow down which labs they recommend in order to help find the root cause of your condition.


How I treat and manage autoimmune diseases

If you're concerned you may have an autoimmune condition, it's important to work carefully with a medical practitioner to help determine your best course of treatment.

In my own practice, when a patient has a known or suspected autoimmune disease, I immediately place them on a comprehensive elimination diet to remove the top twelve inflammatory foods. I order a comprehensive stool test to look at levels of good bacteria, check for infections and leaky gut. I then apply a functional medicine 4R approach to healing the gut. I check blood levels for various antibodies and look for hidden or underlying infections.

After I've done all of this, if the symptoms have not completely resolved I look for hidden toxins like mercury and mycotoxins. If we find heavy metals, I often will place the patient on oral chelation treatment. If we find mycotoxins, I have the patient remediate their home.

I know from personal experience how overwhelming, confusing and scary a diagnosis of an autoimmune disease can be. I also know that conventional medicine often offers treatment of the symptoms, not a real solution to the disease.

While there's nothing wrong with working with a conventional medicine doctor, I personally encourage you to also seek out a functional medicine physician in your area to help you explore to the root cause of your illness. The most important thing is to work with an experienced professional to help identify and adequately treat your autoimmune disease.

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